Do Fundraising Events Need Celebrity Endorsement To Be Successful?

2015-08-19  |  Events |  Posted by: Nick Taylor

I am a sports fan, a fan of movies, music, and popular culture among many things.  I enjoy reading about my favorite "ordinary people who do extra-ordinary things" from time to time.  It has also been a pleasure to meet the odd "celebrity" during the course of my work, or while attending charitable or social functions. I often wonder what my experiences would have been like had I not been given even a fleeting opportunity to rub shoulders with such celebrity types while attending these functions... I've decided that in many cases - their sheer presence had no bearing on my experience at the event.

You see not all celebrities are fun to be around. Some just don't want to be there, others are not great communicators and struggle to entertain or enlighten the crowd. It may not be their fault however, what is their role? Do they have  a higher purpose for attending the event that goes beyond their name recognition and stories they may share? Did they stay in a corner, within the confines of a VIP space under the care of their handlers, or did they walk among the unwashed masses, reach out their hand, say hello and become part of the experience?

When an event is well planned, well promoted, serves the audience it has attracted, and always delivers on the value proposition that has been promised - the addition of a celebrity can be a "nice to have" feature, and may create some buzz factor - but their celebrity status alone may not be enough to sway my impression of the event from bad to good, or from good to amazing.  It is simply a nice to have. Unless...

What if the celebrity does more than just make an appearance?  What if this icon of popular culture has a message to deliver, that ties in to the very reason that I attended the function and supported the cause to begin with? Or what is they completely let their guard down, open up as an equal participant and distance themselves from the "halo effect" that normally surrounds them.  Now I believe their presence is of greater interest to me, and could make a more significant impression on me and my desire to further support the cause, or return to support it again and again for years to come.

I won't share details of the many times I have been disappointed by such a celebrity icon, but I would like to share my impression of one particular legend of Canadian sports, tied forever to the sport that often defines us as a country in Canada, and who had a very personal reason for attending the 2015 Golf to Conquer Cancer tournament this past June.

On Sep. 28, 1972, scoring what is perhaps the most famous goal in international hockey history, Paul Henderson pushed the puck past Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak to help the Canadian team to a 6-5 win in the eighth game of the Summit Series. The goal gave the Canadians a 4-3- 1 series victory and would be replayed on television sets and on the internet for years to come.

Paul played for the Red Wings during the 60's, and the Maple Leafs from 1968 through 1970, but now over thirty years later, Paul is remembered more for that famous goal, and revered as Canada's savior that day. People often tell him his goal was a golden moment in their lives, a time when they felt supremely proud of being a Canadian.

While Paul uses the lessons of leadership, teamwork and commitment he learned during the 1972 Summit Series and his 18-year professional hockey career, to motivate organizations around the world to reach their own goals. At the 2015 Golf to Conquer Cancer Tournament, he shared another story with the guests at the event. Paul is a cancer warrior – a cancer survivor, and was there w tell the many supporters in attendance just what a difference their support of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre can make in the battle to conquer cancer.

When the day started, I kept an eye out for Paul to arrive at Granite Golf Club, one of our two host facilities for the day. I expected that I would greet him, and usher him inside to enjoy a quiet breakfast before slipping out on to the course.  But he did not give me the opportunity to whisk him away to a quiet room in that fashion. Instead, when I heard he had just arrived and slipped through the crowd quietly, I then found him having breakfast with a group of golfers he had never met, having a laugh and talking about the round about to be played.

The two groups that had the good fortune of playing nine of their eighteen holes with Paul, shared with me after the event that he fit in so wonderfully with their executive leaders and client guests. A true gentleman, open to share any stories he was asked about from his illustrious career, and boy did he contribute off the tee! (You see Paul is a fantastic golfer and as an athlete - thrives under competition!)

Later on when addressing the guests for just a few moments before they were asked to open their hearts and their wallets in support of the exciting Live Auction, Paul referenced his current favorite song, a little ditty by the Bee Gee's called "Stayin' Alive".  With some laughter, Paul captured the attention of the almost 200 guests and told them what a difference research had made in his own cancer journey, a difference that allowed him not just to be there on the day to speak - but to help two corporate foursomes compete for leadership positions in the tournament by playing nine holes with their group. (which he thoroughly enjoyed).

Paul was a marvelous addition to the event this day. He fit in with all the guests, spoke to anyone that approached him - bumping fists with people as is his preferred greeting these days. He integrated himself into two unknown corporate teams and left them all with great memories and their own stories to share, and at the end of a long day, he opened his heart and shared his personal story as a cancer survivor, and whether a result of his presence or carefully selected words, the live auction set a new record and contributed to the over $1.3 Million Dollars raised for Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on the day.

For all of his contributions I would like to say - Thank you Paul! You are welcome back any time.

For more information on how you can get involved in Golf to Conquer Cancer, presented by Harry Rosen Inc., and benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.